Are we really that scandalized?

A few weeks ago, I walked into the kitchen and announced, “I have failed my children!” I’d been at a gathering with other parents and got the distinct impression that I wasn’t as on top of the college prep process as I should have been. 

I went on to tell my teenagers that I should have been pushier about their grades. My daughter Caroline said, “No, Mom. It’s really good that you left us in charge of our own grades. Sometimes, when teachers are passing back tests, my friends are getting texts from their parents at that exact moment, asking the kids what they missed and why their grade wasn’t higher.”

“How do the parents know?” I asked.
“Oh, they get alerts on their phones every time a grade is entered,” she said.

I didn’t know this was a thing. Apparently, you can sign up for alerts on PowerSchool, which is a site that schools suggest parents use to keep updated about their students’ progress. This conversation wasn’t reassuring me at all. Caroline went on to tell me that a teacher had recently said to a girl in her class, “Wow, your mom has checked PowerSchool 20,000 times since you’ve been in our school system.”

My gut reaction to this was not, “That mom might be a little obsessed with her child’s grades” or even “That child might not be prepared to handle her own grades next year in college.”

Instead, I managed to respond, “Wait. Your teachers can see how often parents check PowerSchool? Sweet Jesus. We’re in trouble.”

Caroline’s teachers probably think she is being raised by wolves. I only sign into PowerSchool at the beginning of each school year to verify our contact information. Another mom has been on there 20,000 times. 

I’ve since logged on multiple times just to pad my numbers. This is crazy. My daughter has already been accepted into college. 

When news of the recent college admissions scandal broke, I happened to read an article about it while one of my twins was getting her hair relaxed at our local African-American beauty shop. I imagined announcing, “Breaking news, y’all! Rich white people have been paying for their kids to get into fancy colleges.” In that particular setting, this would not be news.

While it is illegal and immoral for families to bribe their way into a school through back channels, we can’t pretend that students aren’t sometimes accepted to many of our alma maters as a result of a big donation. Not every student on campus has “earned” their spot. Does anyone really think that college admissions is a level playing field?

Nonetheless, I noticed a good bit of shock and pearl-clutching happening online. I saw comments such as “I can’t believe this. It’s so disgraceful. It’s not fair to the other kids.” I understand their frustration. Parents bribing coaches, faking athletic profiles, and doctoring test results is pretty extreme.

It’s disingenuous, though, to act like we thought college was open to everyone before this news broke. The system is tilted towards those who have connections, access to resources and affluence of any kind. Students who have parents that have both the time and the means to coordinate extracurricular activities, set up tutors and make social connections are at a tremendous advantage. I’m in this parent group. While I’m not good at keeping up with PowerSchool, I’ve been helping my kids work towards college their whole lives. 

In addition to acknowledging that the whole process is skewed towards affluence, I think it’s also important to confess that many of us understand the tendency to become over-involved in our kids’ lives.

Of course what those parents did was wrong, but the intent feels familiar. The course of action was different, but the underlying motivation to make sure our kids land in a good place, isn’t just for the rich and famous.

My fear that Caroline’s teachers will think I’m a bad mom is probably the same fear that drives people to take ridiculous actions on their kids’ behalf.

What if, instead of feeling like we carry the burden of our childrens’ failures or successes, we let them take full responsibility for their lives? What if we truly believe that where our kids go to college isn’t a judgment about our parenting? What if we as parents stop taking credit or accepting blame for where our kids land? 

Wouldn’t that be really freeing for everyone involved?

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